Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups
In this fascinating study, Stanford political science doctoral candidate Sarah Anzia offers new reasons for dropping “off-cycle” elections for school boards and other bodies—unless you’re part of a special-interest group. As is well-known, such elections (those that do not occur on a general-election or primary day) have notoriously low voter turnouts—with a delta between them and on-cycle elections of as much as 20 percent. Anzia explains that this “empowers the largest and best organized interest groups,” since those groups “make up a greater proportion of the total vote when that election is held off-cycle.” As evidence, she analyzed school-board election cycles and teacher salaries in those same districts. Given teacher unions’ mobilization, common goals, and tight organization, writes Anzia, “we should expect school board members to be more responsive to teacher union demands for higher teacher salaries when those teachers exert greater influence in their elections.” Because of the difficulty of cross-state comparison, she limits her evaluations to eight states that have “within-state variation in district election timing.” And her findings are striking: Districts with off-cycle elections pay their experienced teachers over 3 percent more than districts (in the same states) that hold on-cycle elections. The pay differential increased further for the most senior teachers: Those with more than ten years of experience received 4.2 percent more in districts with off-cycle elections. In Minnesota specifically, Anzia finds that a 5 percentage point decrease in voter turnout is associated with a 0.7 percentage point increase in average teacher pay. This is a fairly big deal since (as Rick Hess has reported) more than half of our school-district elections are off-cycle.
Sarah F. Anzia, “Election Timing and the Electoral Influence of Interest Groups,” (Tucson, AZ: Journal of Politics, forthcoming).
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